Personal Best: Beating The EPA Estimates In A 2015 Toyota Prius

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Toyota Prius
The 2015 Toyota Prius. 
All my previous encounters with the Toyota Prius (and there must have been more than a dozen in the seven years TireKicker has been in existence, plus another dozen in the years I was reviewing cars elsewhere) have been in what is presumed to be its natural habitat, city streets and freeways. And on its intended mission, it has excelled.  When some customers were complaining that they couldn't reach the EPA combined fuel economy estimate of 50 miles per gallon three years ago, I was getting 50.2.

Having never used it as one, I never thought of it as a highway car.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Toyota Prius
2015 Toyota Prius.
That changed last week, when Navigator and I headed for the vineyards and redwoods of her hometown, Ukiah, California from Folsom (suburban Sacramento) for her dad's 86th birthday.  The Prius was in the driveway and so the Prius became a highway car.

Map of Folsom to Ukiah and back
Folsom, CA to Ukiah, CA and back (source: Google Maps)
The first leg of the journey, on a Friday evening, took us west on U.S. 50 to Davis to pick up a Craigslist furniture bargain and then up CA 113 to I-5 to CA 20 to US 101.  With the cruise control (now a radar unit that maintains the distance between you and the car ahead) set for 70 on that long stretch of I-5, the electric motor rarely had the opportunity to engage, so our fuel economy for that part of the trip was an okay-but-not-great 44.3 mpg.

It was the trip back that was a revelation.  As usual, Navigator and I took a different route home...one that's rapidly becoming our favorite...down 101 to Geyserville and through the prettiest parts of California's Sonoma and Napa County wine region.  It's largely made up of a winding two-lane country road that is officially known as CA 128. There are enough low speed stretches, serious curves and downhill grades to allow the electric engine to get involved.

At the end of the trip, in the driveway in Folsom, the trip computer gave us the score:  Even with the final 40 miles from Davis being 70 miles per hour on U.S. 50, the average fuel economy for our drive home was 52 miles per gallon.  Which means we were doing significantly better (54? 55?) on that hundred miles or so of back roads.

Keep in mind: Most people don't meet EPA estimates, much less exceed them.  And the EPA says the Prius is good for 51 city, 48 highway and 50 combined.  So we did way better...using about 3 and a half gallons of gas at $2.74 a gallon to drive 175-ish miles. The trip home cost us $9,59 in fuel.

That's amazing.  And there was another revelation about the Prius as a highway car. It was comfortable.

Interior view of 2015 Toyota Prius
2015 Toyota Prius interior.
Those seats may not look inviting, but they never made me wish I was sitting on something else during our 400 miles in 48 hours. The Prius is seriously roomy.  We could stretch out, and with the rear seat folded down, there was room for our weekend bags and the piece of furniture we picked up on Friday night. The climate control always managed to find the sweet spot and the audio system is fine, more than up to the task of masking the Prius' one drawback...heightened road noise from the weight-saving choice to use less than Lexus-like sound insulation.

Details about the tester?  It was a top-of-the-line Five model.  Base price $30,005.  Standard equipment listing here. Options including Advanced Technology Package (Premium Nav, Entune app suite, backup cam, touchscreen, JBL 8-speaker GreenEdge system with AM-FM-HD-SiriusXM and CD, dynamic radar cruise contorl, lane-keeping assist and head-up display) for $4,320.  Illuminated door sill $279.  Paint protection film for $395.  With $825 delivery processing and handling fee the bottom line rings in at $35,824.  Not cheap, but it's what fully-equipped Priuses (Prii?) go for.  With a sunroof, it would have been more.  Choose a Three model and you can stay under $30K.

Generally, the open road is where a "city car" falls apart.  Not the Prius.  15 years in, I've gained new respect for Toyota's pioneering hybrid.